The Alba Chronicles
Neville Howarth
Thu 12 Apr 2018 11:43



07:40N 55:20W


So far we've done 163 miles with 515 miles to go to St Lucia. We did 160 miles in the last 24 hours.  We have 100% cloud cover and 15-25 knot NNE winds.  We’re on hard on the wind sailing at 5-7 knots with ½ knot favourable current and 2 metre seas.  Here's what we did yesterday and overnight.


11 April 2018   French Guyana to St Lucia (Day 1)

The alarm went off before sunrise and we left the mooring just after 06:30, when we could see where we were going.  The trip down the river was uneventful and we had the tide with us all the way to the river entrance.  During the last ten miles along the approach channel, the tide slowly turned and, by the time that we reached the outer fairway buoy, we had 1½ knots against us.  We left St Laurent de Maroni 3.5 hours after high tide, so I guess that the ideal time to leave would have been 2 hours after high tide.


The weather forecast for the next week is for ENE to E winds at 15-20 knots, so with 660 miles on a course of 320°T to St Lucia, we were looking forward to 4-5 days on a beam reach.  We started out as expected with the wind 80 degrees off our starboard bow, but as the day progressed, we ended up very hard on the wind - the wind was coming from the North rather than the forecast ENE. 


To make matters worse, there were squalls around, which backed the wind by 30-40°, forcing us 30° further west than our desired course.  By sunset, we were very frustrated and praying that the north winds were a local, coastal anomaly and that there’ll be better winds as we leave the land behind.


I’m a lazy navigator.  Normally, we just point the boat in the direction that will get the boat sailing along the required course over the ground.  If we’re sailing downwind, things like magnetic variation, leeway and cross-current effects don’t bother us.


However, while trying to figure out why we were beating upwind, I noticed that our autopilot was set to 345° Magnetic, to achieve our course of 320° True.  A bit of calculation figured out the 25° difference.  In this part of the world, Magnetic North is 17° west of True North.  So our course of 345° Magnetic was 328° True.  Add 8 degrees for leeway because we were beating upwind and the mystery was solved.


Overnight, the wind veered about 20 degrees, coming from the NNE, so we weren’t as hard on the wind, but the wind speed increased by 5 knots giving us a bouncy ride with 3 reefs in the main and just the staysail. To make matters worse, there was no moon, so it was pitch black and we had a steady stream of squalls increasing the wind to 28 knots and producing heavy rain.  It was a long, tough night.